The Stormy 90’s: How Trump Tried to Tear Down the Wall Around Sports Betting

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“I would never believe it in my life that Donald Trump would lose his cool. He just did it.” Chuck Haytaian, Fmr. Speaker of the NJ General Assembly

Everyone in the gambling universe is watching New Jersey, and with good reason. Sometime this Spring, the US Supreme Court will release its decision on a case of monumental importance for every American who cares about sports betting, as well as companies all over the world that would like to get in on a freshly legalized US sports betting industry.

The case is a referendum of sorts on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), a law that bans sports betting in all but four US states. PASPA has, to this point, derailed all efforts to bring legalized wagering to the Garden State.

The funny thing is, the law was originally written with a carve out for New Jersey, if only the state could have passed sports betting legislation before the end of 1993. And long before he ever uttered the word “covfefe,” or (allegedly) paid hush money to a porn star, Donald Trump blew up in epic fashion on live radio at Chuck Haytaian, then Speaker of the NJ General Assembly, over the state’s failure to get such a law passed that year.

Little did anyone know it would be decades before New Jersey would get another chance.

Atlantic City’s Roller Coaster Ride

America’s Favorite Playground wasn’t always in such bad shape economically like it is today. The history of Atlantic City has in fact been full of ups and downs, but around the mid-2000’s things began to go rapidly downhill.

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By that point, Atlantic City was unable to keep up with Las Vegas as a tourist destination. Vegas had it all – the weather, the glitz, the massive resorts with first class everything lining the strip.

And they had sports betting. It was almost everywhere in Sin City, and it was a hit.

Meanwhile, Atlantic City had new competition to worry about, and its new rivals were much closer geographically than Nevada. Near the end of the 2000’s, casinos began opening up all over Pennsylvania. Soon after that, they were in Maryland as well.

States all over the country were legalizing various forms of gambling, and that wasn’t good news for a place that depended on regional supremacy. And to make matters worse, New Jersey had been neglecting Atlantic City economically. While Las Vegas had developed into a giant amusement park for the entire family, Atlantic City was barely a place where you could feel safe walking around outside. The city had squandered all its gifts, and was beginning to pay the price.

In 2006, Atlantic City casinos began a decade-long slide in terms of revenue that only recently began showing signs of abatement. If not for the legalization of online gambling, they might still be sliding.

Trump’s vision was accurate

When PASPA first came to be, New Jersey received a special provision thanks to the efforts of then-Congressman Robert Torricelli. The text was simple: New Jersey could have legal sports betting as long as the state legalized the activity before January 1st, 1994.

But Garden State politics around the issue were anything but simple in the early 90’s. The backlash was potent, featuring gambling opponents from around the sports celebrity spectrum. And in the end, the backlash won out.

On the radio show with Haytaian, Trump was livid, and with good cause. The future President railed on the Speaker for insisting on normal order and refusing to use extreme parliamentary measures to pass the law in the short window that was available to the state.

And unlike many of Trump’s predictions, his vision here was spot on. Here we are, two and a half decades later, embroiled in a Supreme Court battle over something New Jersey could have done on its own, had there been just a bit more political will.

A lesson learned

There’s plenty to take out of this anecdote, and maybe the most obvious thing is that state legislatures should think hard before squandering gifts provided by Congress with an expiration date.

The New Jersey populous was strongly in favor of sports betting by 2011, when a ballot initiative on the issue passed by nearly a 2-1 margin. But it was too late to simply pass a law that allowed the state to regulate such wagers.

Instead, the state has been stuck in somewhat of a holding pattern for the last few years, with operators like Monmouth Park chomping at the bit to open shop.

There will be a resolution soon, one way or the other, but this all could’ve been avoided if the current President had gotten his way on the issue back in 1993.

Adam Small has been an entrepreneur in the online gambling space since 2004. He is a cofounder of PocketFives.com and owner of several businesses in the industry.

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